Noise & Semiotics

Between the encoding and decoding, the communicated message is sometimes disrupted by 'noise'. A design intervention is like that noise. It is like a kink in the communication process which tweaks the meaning of the message., from the expected to the unexpected.

As I reflect back on my Delhi intervention, I realized that the lines made more impact than the imagery; while I was aiming to strike a balance between them. Thus, I decide to refer to my research on the study of semiotics.

In the early 1900s, Ferdinand de Saussure, a Swiss linguist, proposed a study of the general science of signs. At around the same time Charles Sanders Peirce, an American linguist, was developing a parallel study of signs, which he named Semiotics. Both Peirce and Saussure concentrated on the relationships between the components of a sign which enables us to turn signals, in whatever form they appear, into a message we can understand.


Saussure’s study was exclusively a linguistic study, and as a result he showed little interest in the part that a reader plays in the process. Though in his search for a source of meaning he looked towards the origins of languages and took the ‘word’ as a sign. According to his studies a sign became a combination of a signifier‐which is the word and the signified which is the object it represented. On the other hand, Peirce was particularly interested in how we make sense of the world around us. In his learning the signified became the interpretant. The interpretant is not merely the user of the sign but a mental concept of the sign which is based on its reader. He specified that the meaning of a sign is affected by the background of the reader. Their background, education and their experience all have a bearing on how the sign is read.


Peirce defined three categories of signs‐ index, symbol and icon. An icon resembles the sign; it could be a photograph which physically resembles what it represents. An index represents a direct link between the sign and the object, for example, the sign of smoke indicates fire. A symbol has no logical connection between the sign and what it means, like a Red Cross indicating aid.

The imagery that I have been exploring for my signage can be best explained as 'iconic symbols'. The Singapore signs have a lot more visual play which give them more edge than the previous ones and therefore, they are less dependent on the text to give them meaning. Though in all the signs it is the line which reveals the symbolic meaning of the icon.


For example, the line 'Meter or Cheater?' is a signifier of corruption and the Auto is the signified. In the Singapore signs, the line 'Laws of Reputation' is a signifier and the image of the lady with the material objects in her hands is the signified; the only difference being that the visual is explanatory as well.